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How To Live in Tijuana

An Ohio native turned TJ tour guide explains the reality of domestic life below the border

By Derrik Chinn

How To Live in Tijuana


Looking to live on the bleeding edge of hip art, food, and nightlife? Head for the border. Here are a few things to know before you pack up:

1. Make a list of reasons why you’re moving. Rank them according to priority. If “cheaper rent” trumps stuff like “learning a new language,” “assimilating into a new culture,” or “the rare opportunity to hop back and forth between two extremely distinct realities,” reconsider the move.

2. Six magic letters: S-E-N-T-R-I. Chances are you’ll be going back and forth daily for work or school. Before you start thinking about Mexican visas, worry more about minimizing your border wait. Apply for a U.S. passport card, which allows you to use the quicker-moving Ready Lane, or Secured Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection (SENTRI), the Amex Black Card of border crossing that almost always guarantees zippy entry to the States. 

3. Shop on the street. Craigslist Tijuana exists (, but it’s mostly in English and obviously geared toward Americans, and the prices often reflect that. Locals stick to for finding rentals. The best way to find a place is still combing the streets on foot or by car. Cacho and Playas are ideal starter ’hoods for most gabachos, the former for its urban, residential setting. The latter is beach living, removed from the city.

4. Prepare to invest in appliances. Rental properties in Mexico usually come without a washer/dryer, stove, or refrigerator. You might even need to purchase your own shower head and toilet seat.

5. Avoid fees. Open a P.O. Box in San Diego and an account with a U.S. bank that waives ATM fees in Mexico. Find car insurance that extends coverage south of the border and a cell phone plan that’s free of international roaming.

6. Expect the rent to be in U.S. dollars. And not just because you’re American. The dollar is the preferred currency for most large transactions because it tends to be more stable. Depending on the exchange rate, rent can fluctuate $30 to $50 from month to month.

7. Propane isn’t just for grilling. Down here, it makes the world go ’round, as in hot water for showering and cooking. Propane delivery trucks roam the streets, blasting jingles with phone numbers for delivery service. Write down those numbers. They will come in handy whenever the gas runs out.

8. Perfect the art of the cowboy bath. See No. 8.

9. Bills, bills, bills. You have to pay gas, water, cable, electricity in person. Online payments are not available. Some offices have automated machines, and you can pay at any Oxxo—Mexico’s 7-Eleven—for a small fee. Just know the border isn’t the only line you’ll loathe.

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